Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
A1.1 The place
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
This verse implies that Paul never visited Colossae, nor its twin Laodicea. In fact, there were three cities in the Lycus valley, the third being Hierapolis, which is mentioned in Col.4:13. However, some commentators suggest that, since these cities were on the major trade routes between Ephesus and the Euphrates valley, Paul did briefly stop in one of these cities on one his missionary journeys. Be that as it may, Paul’s knowledge of the Colossians was mainly from Epaphras.
When Paul wrote this letter he also wrote one to the Laodiceans and mentions exchanging letters.
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.Col.4:16
This letter to the Laodiceans is one of the lost letters of the NT, and it would be interesting to see what Paul wrote to them. However, we may already know. There is a theory that the Ephesian letter was a circular letter. That is, a general letter to many churches and only the name of the recipients is different. The theory being that the letter to the Laodiceans may well have been a copy of that we call the Ephesian letter. This has some merit since Ephesians and Colossians were written at the same time, when Paul was first imprisoned in Rome. Also, Ephesians doesn’t have any particular greeting from Paul to those in Ephesus, which seems strange since he spent a long time there. Whilst this is not conclusive it does give some merit to the theory.
We note for completeness that Philemon also was written at this time and sent to Philemon who was one of the members of the Colossians.
Secular records tell us that Colossae was once a famous and wealthy city, trading in wool. The name of the city being derived from its wool. But by the time that this letter was written it had been overtaken by Laodicea in influence.
Colossae suffered in its history with earthquakes. There was one in AD 17 and the city was rebuilt. Another earthquake hit it between AD 60-62. But the city never regained its prominence after that. By the fifth century Colossae ceased to exist, and its ruins to date have never been subject to an archaeological excavation.
A1.2 The people
The key man at Colossae was Epaphras. From the opening verses Paul calls him a faithful minister. He was the messenger between Paul and the Church.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.
Epaphras was one of them and worked with the saints in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Philemon and Onesimus are prominent in the story of Colossae. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who found Christ under the ministry of Paul. The letter to Philemon was a personal plea to take the runaway back and not to punish him but treat him as a brother in Christ.
In Philemon we have also mentioned Apphia and Archippus. These were significant ministers in the church at Colossae Col.4:17.
A1.3 Labouring in prayers
Paul mentions that he was always praying for them. This may seem remarkable since he never knew them at all personally. But what a lesson! Paul’s concern was not with his personal score sheet, but rather for the well-being of all the saints, wherever they were found! Later on Paul explains what he was praying for them (Col.1:9-12).
We can learn from this that we are able to pray for people we don’t know, have never met and unlikely to meet either. This is of great encouragement since often we hear of reports from other parts of the world of needs. We too can enter in and prayer for these brothers and sisters, whether known to us or not. Knowing that the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much Jms.5:16.
The second mention of prayer for our attention is that of Epaphras. He laboured fervently for them to stand perfect and complete in the Will of God. The word for labour, according to Vine, is toil /zeal. In other words, this is not just lip service but a real engagement in prayer with God.
Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work…….
Prayer is the battle……We have to labour along the line of God’s direction …
You labour at prayer and results will happen all the time from His standpoint…
My Uttermost for His Highest
The content of Paul’s prayer is also revealing. To stand perfect and complete in the Will of God! This is a common theme in the NT. The onus is on the individual to find God’s will and not to rely on some man-made mediator or guru telling us what we should be doing Rom.12:1-2; I Pet.4:2; I Jn.2:17.
Some of these themes we shall take up later.